ADUs and Neighborhoods: It’s a ‘Win-Win’

Last week, I discussed the types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and the benefits they can bring to a senior homeowner. This week, I’m branching out to examine the impact of ADUs on communities and neighborhoods, as well as to baby boomers. Obviously, building an ADU or converting a space into one for rental purposes can be a good option for older adults wanting to age-in-place, but it also can have a positive impact on the wider community.  

AARP Liveable Communities is a rich resource for everything ADU. Comprehensive overview as well as step by step guides can be found there. Be sure to watch the Liveable Lessons: ADUs videos done by Portland, Ore., developer Eli Spevack, a long-time advocate in the field.

So Why Should I Care?

This housing option offers three big “wins” in any community, which taken together, make it hard to ignore or oppose.

1.  Affordability — For many young adults — singles and couples — the dream of a “starter home” has become just that: a dream. The cost of single family homes has skyrocketed so dramatically in recent years that many people abandon their dream. An ADU can be the perfect solution for these homebuyers. As AARP has mentioned, ADUs often are the only affordable rental option in single-family neighborhoods, which normally contain no studio or one-bedroom options at all.

2. Neighborhood Scale — Rather than large-scale projects where entire city blocks are razed for new construction, ADUs’ individual construction methods are slower but attractive because they don’t alter the character of the existing residential neighborhood. This “invisibility” of ADUs in a community is one reason the units are gaining in popularity in municipalities across the country.

3. Flexible Occupancy — Building in the backyard of their family home, the owner’s initial intent may be to secure rental income from either short-term Airbnb or longer term renters. As owners age and are ready to downsize, they can move into their ADU and have their adult children take over the family home. For some, the ADU can house needed caregivers which enable them to stay in their “forever home.”

Zoning: Let’s Use It For Good!

While not all communities have zoning laws in place for ADUs, many do, and that number is increasing. A June 2021 study from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the regional comprehensive planning organization, called on communities to align zoning, approval processes, building codes, and inspections to generate more housing options. ADUs were highlighted as one of the more convenient and affordable options. ADUs “maintain neighborhood character,” the report said. “ADUs help to meet the growing demand for housing, increase access to jobs and services, promote compact development, and support multigenerational living.”

To find out if ADUs are allowed in a given community, contact the local office in charge of land use and permits. If they are allowed, ask for a list of conditions, permit needs, and fees. If they are not allowed, contact elected officials and local zoning and planning departments for information about how housing codes can be updated. Then advocate! ADUs are a great choice for many Third Chapter Living adults — if we use our “Third Chapter” voices to make it so.

Next week, I’ll delve into a related topic — how the Tiny House Movement can positively impact Third Chapter Living. While some ADUs are Tiny Houses, not all Tiny Houses are ADUs. Learn more next week!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age in place.

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